IRL: Carpentier keeps smiling

There was a bit of a culture shock for French Canadian Patrick Carpentier when he changed over from the Champ Car World Series to the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series competition. The 33-year-old former Toyota Atlantic champion who claimed ...

There was a bit of a culture shock for French Canadian Patrick Carpentier when he changed over from the Champ Car World Series to the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series competition.

The 33-year-old former Toyota Atlantic champion who claimed victory five times in the Champ cars has always professed a love of oval racing. Possibly due to his racing entry as a speed skater, where ovals are the circuit du jour?

Carpentier's affinity for four-cornered tracks showed early in his Champ Car career, as he took his best rookie finish on the Gateway track en route to gaining 1997 Rookie of the Year honors.

Patrick isn't eligible for the same title (RoY) in the IRL in 2005 - his experience scotches that idea, but he's got to get accustomed to many new circuits on the 17-race calendar. Thus far it's been a roller-coaster ride for the driver of Red Bull Cheever Racing's #83 Dallara/Toyota/Firestone entry.

Saddled with a Toyota engine that was easily down on power in the first part of the season, Carpentier had a tough time gaining good qualifying slots but still managed to land in the top ten in his first three contests, leading four laps in the season-opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

By the time he got to Richmond last weekend, Carpentier held 13th place in the point standings and wasn't really on anybody's radar screen. By the time he left, after "the most fun race" he had moved up three spots to tenth in the season standings.

"Hey, I enjoyed it. What a race! This is what I came to the IRL for," Carpentier exclaimed three days later, obviously still enjoying the success. "This was the best thing that could happen to our team."

A Toyota engine test on the Richmond International Raceway yielded first and third places for the beleaguered engine maker who now has two wins for the season - to Chevrolet's single victory and Honda's four.

But Carpentier's team found something in the suspension of their Dallaras - for the Canadian and Californian Alex Barron - that suddenly has them competitive with the balance of the regular 22-car field. "We were not very fast when the test started," Carpentier acknowledged. "We tried something and gained almost 4/10ths, making the car very comfortable to drive."

As a result of his first podium of the season, the ever-consistent Carpentier is "looking forward to going racing for the 'meat' of the season. We've got our timing going and there are a lot of tracks I'm looking forward to."

One might be Michigan International Speedway, where Carpentier won his first CART race in 2001 by a whisker over Dario Franchitti and Michel Jourdain Jr. "That's a great track for side-by-side action like the IRL has," he admitted.

When he arrived from the former CART series, Carpentier had to make some quick adaptations, but not to the primarily oval nature of the League's contests. "This series is extremely competitive. Yeah, there's less power and downforce" than in Champ Car, "but everything from gears to aero carries tremendous importance here. The cars are really on the edge.

"I came to the IRL in order to race at Indy but the wheel-to-wheel racing is what I wanted. I had such a good time at Richmond," he emphasized. "I did have a great time racing in Champ Car because it gave me the experience to run with these guys in IRL. And remember, I've been speed skating on ovals all my life," Carpentier laughed.

The 21st place finish in his first Indianapolis 500 Mile Race "wasn't what I'd hoped for but what a beautiful place," Carpentier exclaimed. "There were so many people, movie stars and other celebrities that it was fun to be part of it all." Lacking speed in the early part of the month of May, Carpentier's team was "right there with the other guys at the end.

"I thought I might get my lap back but then something came into the engine (debris) and he was relegated to 21st place at the close. Carpentier had the open seat at Newman/Haas Racing dangling in front of him, but under contract to Eddie Cheever for the season he could not go to Milwaukee the week after Indy to take over the Champ Car seat regularly occupied by injured Bruno Junqueira.

It was tough to say no at that time, but Carpentier is feeling better and better about his decision to come to Red Bull Cheever Racing and to stay with them, now that the team is figuring out its chassis to make it right for this new driver and Toyota has made engine gains.

Toyota gave him "good power" at Richmond last weekend but "on the longer tracks we need more aero. Our chassis was not quite there but it was solid," until last weekend. "We changed the suspension and it worked. Those changes should carry forth to other tracks," Carpentier mused.

This weekend marks the Argent Mortgage Kansas Indy 300 on the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway oval. Carpentier isn't sure if he can qualify up front - he took fourth grid slot in Richmond - but feels confident he can be in the top ten. "We'll just have to see how it goes," he shrugged.

Like most in the IndyCar Series paddock, Carpentier knew Toyota was intending to pull out of open wheel racing well before the departure was announced on Monday. "Toyota wants to go NASCAR racing and they've been preparing for it for quite a while. Other manufacturers have demonstrated high interest in the series so I don't think it will be a problem," Carpentier indicated.

There are many sides to engine manufacturer competition, Carpentier believes. "There are both ups and downs to both sides of the equation," he explained. "More manufacturers puts more money into the series but with fewer engines you have more [parity]. I think we'll see many manufacturers coming in, from what I've heard."

The veteran from Quebec Province has a positive view on the balance of his first season in Indy racing. With four top-10 results in eight races and nine more opportunities ahead of him, Patrick Carpentier appears to be sitting pretty heading into the heart of the season. He's up to the task at hand and his positive attitude has the entire Red Bull Cheever Racing team smiling along with him.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Eddie Cheever , Bruno Junqueira , Patrick Carpentier , Dario Franchitti , Alex Barron